What's Inside

50 years before…

Don’t leave the street. They can’t get you if you don’t leave the street.

Little David Olson knew he was in trouble. The minute his mother got back with Dad, he was going to get it. His only hope was the pillow stuffed under his blanket, which made it look like he was still in bed. They did that on TV shows. But none of that mattered now. He had snuck out of his bedroom and climbed down the ivy and slipped and hurt his foot. But it wasn’t too bad. Not like his older brother playing football. This wasn’t too bad.

Little David Olson hobbled down Hays Road. The mist in his face. The fog settling in down the hill. He looked up at the moon. It was full. The second night it had been full in a row. A blue moon. That’s what his big brother told him. Like the song that Mom and Dad danced to sometimes. Back when they were happy. Back before David made them afraid.

Blue Moon.

Little David Olson heard something in the bushes. For a second, he thought it might be another one of those dreams. But it wasn’t. He knew it wasn’t. He forced himself to stay awake. Even with his headaches. He had to get there tonight.

A car drove past, bathing the fog in headlight. Little David Olson hid behind a mailbox as rock ’n’ roll poured from the old Ford Mustang. A couple of the teenagers laughed. A lot of kids were being drafted into the army, and drunk driving was on the rise. That’s what his dad said anyway.

“David?” a voice whispered. Hisspered. Hisss.

Did someone say it? Or did he just hear it?

“Who’s there?” David said.


It must have been in his head. That was okay. At least it wasn’t the hissing lady. At least he wasn’t dreaming.

Or was he?

David looked down the hill at the street corner with the big streetlight on Monterey Drive. The teenagers passed it, taking all the sound with them. That’s when David saw the shadow of a person. A figure stood in the middle of the pool of streetlight. Waiting and whistling. Whistling and waiting. A song that sounded a little like Blue Moon.

The hairs on the back of David’s neck stood up.

Don’t go near that corner.

Stay away from that person.

Little David Olson cut through the yards instead.

He tiptoed over an old fence. Don’t let them hear you. Or see you. You’re off the street. It’s dangerous. He looked up in a window where a babysitter was making out with her boyfriend while the baby cried. But it sounded like a cat. He was still sure he wasn’t dreaming, but it was getting harder and harder to tell anymore. He climbed under the fence and got wet grass stains on his pajama bottoms. He knew he couldn’t hide them from his mom. He would have to wash them himself. Like how he was starting to wet the bed again. He washed the sheets every morning. He couldn’t let his mother know. She would ask questions. Questions he could not answer.

Not out loud.

He moved through the little woods behind the Maruca house. Past the swing set that Mr. Maruca had put up with his boys. After a hard day’s work, there were always two Oreos and a glass of milk waiting. Little David Olson helped them once or twice. He loved those Oreos. Especially when they got a little soft and old.


The whisper was louder now. He looked back. There was no one around. He peeked back past the houses to the streetlight. The shadow person was gone. The figure could be anywhere. It could be right behind him. Oh, please don’t let it be the hissing lady. Please don’t let me be asleep.


The twig snapped behind him. Little David Olson forgot about his hurt foot and ran. He cut through the Pruzans’ lawn down onto Carmell Drive and turned left. He could hear dogs panting. Getting closer. But there were no dogs. It was just sounds. Like the dreams. Like the cat baby crying. They were running after him. So, he ran faster. His little booties hitting the wet pavement. Smack smack smack like a grandma’s kiss.

When he finally got to the corner of Monterey Drive, he turned right. He ran in the middle of the street. Like a raft on a river. Don’t leave the street. They can’t get you if you’re on the street. He could hear the noises on either side. Little hisses. And dogs panting. And licking. And baby cats. And those whispers.

“David? Get out of the street. You’ll get hurt. Come to the lawn where it’s safe.”

The voice was the hissing lady. He knew it. She always had a nice voice at first. Like a substitute teacher trying too hard. But when you looked at her, she wasn’t nice anymore. She turned to teeth and a hissing mouth. Worse than the Wicked Witch. Worse than anything. Four legs like a dog. Or a long neck like a giraffe. Hssss.

“David? Your mother hurt her feet. They’re all cut up. Come and help me.”

The hissing lady was using his mom’s voice now. No fair. But she did that. She could even look like her. The first time, it had worked. He went over to her on the lawn. And she grabbed him. He didn’t sleep for two days after that. When she took him to the house with the basement. And that oven.

“Help your mother, you little shit.”

His grandma’s voice now. But not his grandma. David could feel the hissing lady’s white teeth. Don’t look at them. Just keep looking ahead. Keep running. Get to the cul-de-sac. You can make her go away for ever. Get to the last streetlight.


David Olson looked ahead to the last streetlight in the cul-de-sac. And then, he stopped.

The shadow person was back.

The figure stood in the middle of the pool of streetlight. Waiting and whistling. Whistling and waiting. Dream or no dream, this was bad. But David could not stop now. It was all up to him. He was going to have to walk past the streetlight person to get to the meeting place.


The hissing lady was closer. Behind him. David Olson suddenly felt cold. His pajamas damp. Even with the overcoat. Just keep walking. That’s all he could do. Be brave like his big brother. Be brave like the teenagers being drafted. Be brave and keep walking. One little step. Two little steps.

“Hello?” said Little David Olson.

The figure said nothing. The figure did not move. Just breathed in and out, its breath making


“Hello? Who are you?” David asked.

Silence. The world holding its breath. Little David Olson put a little toe into the pool of light. The figure stirred.

“I’m sorry, but I need to pass. Is that okay?”

Again there was silence. David inched his toe into the light. The figure began to turn. David thought about going back home, but he had to finish. It was the only way to stop her. He put his whole foot into the light. The figure turned again. A statue waking up. His whole leg. Another turn. Finally, David couldn’t take it, and he entered the light. The figure ran at him. Moaning. Its arm reaching out. David ran through the circle. The figure behind him. Licking. Screaming. David felt its long nails reaching, and just as it was going to grab his hair, David slid on the hard pavement like in baseball. He tore up his knee, but it didn’t matter. He was out of the light. The figure stopped moving. David was at the end of the street. The cul-de-sac with the log cabin and the newlywed couple.

Little David Olson looked off the road. The night was silent. Some crickets. A little bit of fog that lit the path to the trees. David was terrified, but he couldn’t stop. It was all up to him. He had to finish or the hissing lady would get out. And his big brother would be the first to die.

Little David Olson left the street and walked.

Past the fence.

Through the field.

And into the Mission Street Woods.

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One of Fall 2019's Best Books (People, EW, LitHub, Vox, Bustle, Washington Post, Associated Press, and more)
"Twenty years after his smash hit novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky returns. . . an ambitious tale narrated through multiple perspectives, mashing together horror, fairy tales and the (rewritten) Bible. . . But Chbosky's true skill is in turning a book of absolute horrors -- both fantastical and real -- into an uplifting yarn. [This is] a book about so much -- fate, destiny, redemption, power. . . Chbosky has his eye firmly on humanity."—New York Times Book Review
"Imaginary Friend is an all-out, not-for-the-fainthearted horror novel, one of the most effective and ambitious of recent years. . . To be sure, the underlying sensibility that characterized 'Wallflower' is present in the new book, particularly in its empathetic portraits of people struggling to recover from personal tragedy. . . Perhaps its most impressive aspect is the confidence with which Chbosky deploys the more fantastical elements of his complex narrative. . . A very human story with universal implications."—Washington Post
"Chbosky's horror writing stands on its own. . . a gleeful meditation. . . the nine years Chbosky reportedly spent writing the book shows in his well-crafted scares, snappy pacing and finely turned plot. Imaginary Friend is well worth the time for those who dare."—TIME Magazine
An epic work of horror. . . Ambitious and compulsively readable. . . a Grand Guignol exploration of what it means to have faith, even in the face of absolute hopelessness. . . His willingness to pursue and present answers to such meaningful queries is what elevates Imaginary Friend from a more than competent attempt at the horror genre to a formidable work on par with other genre operas that also tackle spiritual matters, like Stephen King's 1978 behemoth 'The Stand' or Justin Cronin's 'The Passage' trilogy. Imaginary Friend is a book that far outstrips the expectations of his chosen genre. . . a book full of it's own light."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"A haunting and thrilling novel pulsing with the radical empathy that makes Chbosky's work so special."—John Green, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars
"Like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Imaginary Friend says that no matter how dark the places you have been or the things you have seen, no one and nothing and nowhere is beyond redemption. What is astonishing and laugh-out-loud genius is that Chbosky has disguised all this wisdom in an entertaining thriller. In true Stephen Chbosky style, he gives you the bran and the doughnut. Spiritual enlightenment and horror. I don't know how he did it. But he did it. It's a masterpiece."—Emma Watson, actor and activist
"If you aren't blown away by the first fifty pages of Imaginary Friend, you need to get your sense of wonder checked."—Joe Hill, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman and NOS4A2
"If you grew up reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you won't want to miss this spooky, surreal thriller. . . You'll feel locked in the battle between good and evil as Kate and Christopher fight for their lives."—Good Housekeeping
"A creepy horror yarn that would do Stephen King proud. . . The reader will want to be sure that no one is hiding behind the chair. . . That's the nature of a good scary story -- and this one is excellent. A pleasing book for those who like to scare themselves silly, one to read with the lights on and the door bolted."—Kirkus
"Reminiscent of the epic novels of Stephen King. . . With multiple points of view that probe the thoughts and nightmares of characters from all over town, this is an immersive read that walks the line between dark fantasy and horror [and] reads like a season of Stranger Things. . . [Imaginary Friend] will sell itself to readers who have waited twenty years for a new novel from Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 1999), but horror fans will also be curious. A big, scary book."—Booklist
"An unputdownable, extraordinary book. Stephen Chbosky manages to combine the heart and emotion that suffuses all of his work with Stephen King chills. The pages practically turn themselves."—Greer Hendrick & Sarah Pekkanen, #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl
"Sure, this unputdownable book is the scariest thing I've read in a long time. Mysterious woods. Evil forces. Unseen worlds. But it's also, like everything Chbosky does, imbued with heart and soul. You'll fall in love with these characters. That's why they stay with you, like a haunting."—R. J. Palacio, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wonder
"Imaginary Friend is a sprawling epic horror novel that hearkens back to the classics of 1970s Golden Age, but, like Stranger Things, with a twinkle in its malevolent eye. Enormous, scary fun."—Dan Choan, bestselling author of Ill Will
"Imaginary Friend has bee a long time coming. And like a fine Bordeaux, it rewards that wait in countless ways. This is a fearsome, remarkably ambitious novel that breaks through the boundaries of the horror genre to become epic -- in all the best senses of the word."—Lincoln Child, #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Verses for the Dead and City of Endless Night
"Imaginary Friend is simply extraordinary reading experience -- it reminded me of discovering a classic Stephen King novel from two decades ago, but all funneled through Chbosky's utterly unique style. A tremendous read, every bit worth the wait."—Blake Crouch, New York Times bestselling author of A Dark Matter
"With Imaginary Friend, Stephen Chbosky has written another classic, setting a new high watermark for fantasy horror. It is the greatest story ever told of love and salvation in which a little child shall save them. It is as spine-tingling sinister as a Stephen King tome, as ghastly as any ghost story by Peter Straub, as gothic as any Neil Gaiman title. It should become a horror perennial, taken out at Halloween and Christmas or any other time a reader wants a proper fight."—Washington Independent
"Chbosky brings deep humanity to his characters and creates genuinely unsettling tableaux, including a nightmarish otherworld that Christopher accesses via his treehouse."—Publishers Weekly
"You won't want to miss this spooky, surreal thriller."—Good Housekeeping
"The author of Perks of Being a Wallflower goes full Stephen King in his new supernatural thriller of epic proportions. . . This is my kind of Christmas novel!"—LitHub
"This is an immersive read. . . With its highly precocious young hero, the novel reads like a season of Stranger Things."—Booklist
"It's not just horror that Stephen Chbosky is tackling: it's religion, too [which] makes the world-building all the more richer...not a light read, but it is a thrilling one."—Variety
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A young boy is haunted by a voice in his head in this acclaimed, bestselling epic of literary horror from the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

One of The Year's Best Books (People, EW, Lithub, Vox, Washington Post, and more)
We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It's as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six long days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a treehouse in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.
Twenty years ago, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower made readers everywhere feel infinite. Now, Chbosky has returned with an epic work of literary horror, years in the making, whose grand scale and rich emotion redefine the genre. Read it with the lights on.